7 Steps to Knowing which Design Field to be Expert at

how to choose your design niche
Is the design field you are in now, right for you? As a freelancer it’s best to market oneself as an expert in a particular field (or two). Maybe you’re thinking whether to focus more on another of your interests instead. Here’s a  7-step process you can use to find out.

1. Know your interests

Graphic design is broad and it may be tempting to accept projects in as many design fields as you can. This is good for education but not very smart for business. (But if you’re an in-house designer, it’s smart to be a jack-of-all-trades I think.)

Following are some specializations some of which may even have sub-specialties.

To do: List your interests (even if not mentioned here) in a single column. A spreadsheet is best so you can resize and sort easily later on, but of course you can just write them down if you like. Have space for five more columns to the right of your interest list.

2: Evaluate your skills

Have an honest self-evaluation of what you can do. Are you well-grounded on design basics? How structured is your design process? How good are you with your tools and software? How fast can you learn? Now think about your skills in relation to your interests. How well do they match up?

To do: In the second column, assess your skill level on a scale of 1-5:

 1 – None at all.
 2 – A little but I can learn.
 3 – I’ve done this once or twice before, I can do more of this.
 4 – I’m actually pretty good.
 5 – I’m awesome!

3:  Get other people’s feedback

Other people meaning clients, friends/family, and fellow designers. It never hurts to get feedback. It’s one of the fastest ways to improve design skills. There are design forums where other designers are willing to tell you what they think. If you’ve already done some work for clients, what they think of your work says a lot too. In Step 2 where you assessed your skills, you may have underestimated or overestimated yourself. Feedback from others will balance this out somewhat.

To do: Get feedback on your best work from your interest list, or think back on your past work. Put this on a scale of 1-5.

 1 – Poor (also if no work was ever done in this area)
 2 – Needs improvement
 3 – Good enough
 4 – Very good
 5 – Exceptional

You can also add another column and write notes beside your list. For example, designers on xx forum think this is crap; the client totally loved it; my mom didn’t like it!; this was featured as one of the best xx designs on xx blog, etc.

4:  Assess your commitment

Your level of commitment determines your success (or failure). Is this a passing fancy or can you imagine yourself doing this sort of work years from now?

To do: In the next column, gauge your commitment level on a scale of 1-5

1 – I don’t think I can keep this up.
2 – I’ll be tired of this by next year.
3 – Three years sounds good.
4 – Everyone will soon think of me when they say “(insert niche here) design”.
5 – You can picture a Wikipedia article about you, with your photo at age 70.

5:  Study the current situation where you are (and even worldwide)

How is the economy? Who will be needing your design work? Will the demand for your services grow or diminish over time? How is the competition? Do you think you can support yourself (and your family) as a/an (put interest here) designer?

To do: Research the fields you wrote down as interests and write notes for each and also answers to the above questions.

6: Examine your values

What do you get from your design work? Why is it important to you? Do you like to work alone or do you prefer to collaborate? Would you like to work with large companies or smaller businesses? You can think up some more questions like these. The point is to figure out what kind of work will give you the most satisfaction.

To do: In the final column, write down notes on what you will get from doing work in that area of interest.

7:  Narrow down your choices and analyze

Finally, sort your Interests based first on Skill, then Feedback, then Commitment (highest rated first). If the one on top is the field you are in now and from your notes, are pretty much satisfied, then good for you.

If not, take note of your top two or three and work towards gaining expertise in those but don’t discount your other interests that fall behind. You might still choose one of those eventually, you just haven’t had much experience yet. Later on, you can repeat this exercise. After doing more work in your areas of interest, you will naturally gravitate towards the niche that is perfect for you…and it truly may not be just one after all.

You can download the worksheet here.

Your turn now, what insights have you gained? Did this exercise help you? What do you think about specialization in design? Did it help or hurt your business? Are you where you should be? Please share your thoughts and discoveries in the comments. And if you care to, please share this article through any of the buttons below. I’d love that.

  • January 19th, 2012 /

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